Noam Neusner, one of President Bush's former economic speechwriters with whom I worked while at the CEA, has a nice piece in the Forward this week taking passionate but casual environmentalists to task for not living up to their own policy prescriptions.
His editorial reminded me of an observation I made about conservation (this time while on the ground) during my trip to San Francisco last month. There is no carpool lane on U.S. 101 south of the city until you get to San Mateo county and, in particular, south of the airport. Ever the economist, I made sure to check that this was not because Bay Area commuters seemed to carpool extensively without need of those pesky incentives. Plenty of driver-only vehicles, maybe a bit fewer driver-only SUVs than other places I've been. I've decided that I'll defer to the Google folks on conservation and alternative energy. The rest of you Hippie-Crites in SF can call me when you get a carpool lane on the major North/South artery. Reach me on my cell phone as I'm walking to work.<!--break-->
Here's what Noam had to say in "Let Them Change Lightbulbs:"
Whether we are motivated by fears of global warming, or Arab oil money funding terrorist attacks on Israel, or $75 per tank fill-up prices, our actions in response are minuscule and laughable.
A great percentage of the American public, roughly 70%, believes global warming is real, that it causes unusual weather patterns, and that its cause is the burning and release of carbons into the atmosphere. At least a third is very concerned about it.
That kind of consensus should produce meaningful action, no?
Instead, what we typically get is the soft pabulum of “every little bit helps” — the conservationist culture best represented by the 2007 congressional law that will phase out incandescent light bulbs starting in 2012. The mullahs and princes who rule OPEC charge $120 a barrel, so we change the light bulbs.
If that’s all we ever do in response to the very real threats to our economy, security and environment, then we might as well acknowledge our fecklessness.
And for a nice picture of what our environmental and energy policies are doing elsewhere in the world, take a look at this gem from Glenn McCoy of The Washington Post.